Geek Holiday day 2/3

Whew, who knew book reading could be such a whirlwind! I’m so dizzy with comings and goings I don’t know which end is up. I got you through Friday. Saturday we went back to the library for more. Unfortunately, many of the books I’m requesting can’t be located in the stacks. Hmmm. Security is tighter going in than it is going out. Basically, I’ve been using my copy of Cutting For All! as a guide to what to look for. That book is a bibliography of pattern making, costuming, sewing and paper pattern companies since publishing began. The very first books written on pattern making were in Spanish (in the late 16th century), then there were English books. The first American book wasn’t published until the late 1780’s and even then, that was a pirated book from England! So! It would seem Americans have been copying Europeans from day one.

The process is, I request a book (or ten) at the desk, filling out this little form in triplicate. It takes an hour for those to come back via dumbwaiter. Then I collect the stash and go through it. The stuff that looks promising, I photograph page by page. After I photograph a book, I upload it from the camera to my laptop. Just to be sure I wouldn’t run out of anything, I bought an extra camera battery ($45!) and another card (1 GB). Anyway, I load photos of each book into it’s own file and move onto to the next one. In the process, I’m not reading much, just enough to see if the book is worth a digital copy.

I’m looking for books that make mention of scale, as in, drafting to scale (don’t even expect me to explain what that means right now). Also anything relating to anthropometry. I’m not finding much. Ancillary searches are related to apparel production methods, pattern grading and sewing. I’m trying to nail down when it was that grading per se became a known practice, how and when were the heuristics developed and upon what were these determined? One would think it’d be anthropometry but sizing studies of that time were even more scarce than they are today. Any author’s grading scale would be limited to his (and they were usually ‘hims’) practice, clients he made clothing for so naturally, we’re talking about people of sufficient income to afford custom clothing although hiring this out wasn’t as rare in those days as it is now. Speaking of, there’s a lot of competing advice in that market in that day, just as there is now. Apparently, merchant tailors tended to rally around personalities, those who could scrape up enough of a following to interest a publisher in their most excellent superlative drafting method book. It doesn’t seem to be any different today so I guess sewing expert gurus are nothing new. That’s the other thing that’s funny. The book titles. oh boy. Many of the book titles are a whole paragraph long. Things like Most excellent, newly approved and scientific hereto unknown method of draughting (or drafting) designed to give superlative superior results for distinguished clients of discriminating tastes, no less than that of which is employed by superior scientific most excellent and superlative tailors and easy too, learnable in fifteen minutes or less with only one measurement (the wrist) required and no tools. Honest. I mean, I barely exaggerated. The only thing that varied is whether a proprietary tool (always patented) was required.

Strangely enough, I’ve found that sewing books are a relatively new phenomenon, only becoming accessible in the late forties and fifties. Who knew? It seems the earliest sewing related books are the ones put out by the Institute of Women’s Domestic Science at the turn of the century. Sewing books per se, appear to be unknown prior to that. Interesting.

Anyway, I’ve got a whole passle of books I’ve photographed. Many of them pamphlets really, sixteen pages long with five of those pages being a preface or introduction by the author. They’re pretty funny. Without fail, each of these authors is absolutely correct, unerringly so, in thought, word and deed. Believe me, I’ve never felt like such a sinner but apparently, my clothing sins qualify me for a one-way ticket straight to hell. And I thought the fashion police (aka fashists) of today were bad. Oh my oh my. I’m cooked.

One author (Otis Madison) is noteworthy because he states he’s never made a mistake in the three books of his I’ve seen and after he died, there was a big to-do because someone suggested he had in fact made an error but somebody (a sycophant but I prefer my word, psychofan) wrote an editorial stating that Otis Madison (so described as the Wampen of his day but you won’t know who that is so we’ll use the edu-lite comparative of Sandra Betzina and you’ll get my drift) had never made an error and made quite a big deal of it to such extent Seligman reprinted portions of the protest in his book (Cutting for all). Thus, browsing the Library of Congress, and judging from the readily accessible proofs, it seems incontrovertible that Jesus Christ didn’t die until the 1870’s and additionally by all accounts, was a finely skilled, superlative and most excellent pattern maker and not a carpenter at all. Realistically, the summary of the record would conclude that obstinacy has been an occupational hazard for the last 500 years or so.

Before I got off track, I meant to tell you that’s what I was doing on Saturday. Saturday night, Eric and I had dinner with my friend Susan Gowin and her husband Stan. It was their 28th wedding anniversary. Susan looks younger every year. She looks younger than me now. They took us to this Italian place called Gepetto’s. That’s the other thing, we haven’t had a bad meal since we got here (except for the breakfast at the hotel on the first day). The red sauce was the best I’ve ever had.

On Sunday, the library was closed so we went to see other geek stuff at the Smithsonian. The museum I wanted to see most (industry, has all the apparel and needle trades stuff) is closed for renovation. Total Bummer! So, no photos of goofy sewing gadgets for awhile. So, we went to the space/airflight museum and looked over Wilbur and Orville’s plane. Orville definitely needed a brochure (no surprise I guess). Most interestingly, much of the componentry of their first glider wasn’t mounted together but rather, held together in a skin of bias fabric. The museum did not say what kind of fabric it was either. It looked to be a lightweight duck but it could have been hemp for all I know.

We also went down to the Native American Museum, a way of getting a touch of home so far away, it was nice being surrounded by the familiar. We were a little hungry, wanting a snack, so we went to the snack bar not hoping for much, most snack bars in museums are awful but ohmigawd, the food was incredible, not a snackbar at all. It was great! And nearly everything was vegetarian if not vegan so it was really weird being surrounded by such a huge variety of menu choices that we couldn’t figure out what to eat. They had seven or eight different food kiosks, each represented native foods from various regions of the country. It was pretty cool. It was a little pricey and we went a little overboard but it was a great meal. As I said, we haven’t had a bad meal since we got here.

Sunday, we left DC and went to a hotel in Baltimore. Eric has a meeting here. I will be taking the train from Baltimore to DC on Tues and Wed (we leave Thursday). Eric took me down on the train today (Monday) from Baltimore, a dry run so I didn’t freak out and have a melt down when I’m on my own Tues/Wed, making sure I don’t get lost. More a dry run of all the different things one has to go through than anything else. So that’s where I am now. I had planned to post this pop quiz I’d found in this old pattern book because you guys think mine are hard but this one had me baffled and worse, the author flippantly said the solution was so obvious he didn’t need to provide the answer but if you really needed a clue, to see the plates xx and those were worse. Funny funny stuff. To be posted later.

I’m going to bed now. I am checking in to the site through out the day and appreciate any comments you leave! Hope you all are well and happy. Really.

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  1. Anne says:

    I have some of the Institute of Women’s Domestic Science books, including one just on cleaning clothes. Most of mine are English, although I have a few Australian books.

    I think you might be looking for sewing information in the wrong place – I don’t know about texts for tailors and cutters, but there’s a reasonable amount of 19thC works aimed at middle class women. Most of it is part of larger texts; general neeedlework books often have sections on ‘plain sewing’.

    Considering the status of women in the 19thC, I think it is amazing that the most expensive thing that many households owned from the middle of the 19thC was a sewing machine.

  2. Sandra B says:

    I have a 1921 copy of The New Dressmaker by the Butterick Publishing Company. I also have “A Manual of Plain Needlework and Cutting-Out” by the late Emily G. Jones (sic) (Apparently the resurrection was actually achieved by a sewing teacher, not a patternmaker) dated 1889. This is a school text-book.

    I also have The Sectional System by P J Thornton, from 1893. He mentions scale. Our state library has his companion volume for womenswear in stack. I wish I could share these somehow, but I don’t know how.

    I’m thoroughly, vicariously enjoying your holiday. I’d love a week in a library.

  3. Alison Cummins says:

    I read an account of a study of a neighbourhood in London about a hundred years ago. (Argh. I don’t even remember where I read it. I’ll have to do some digging.) Someone was trying to develop an index of family health and the likelihood of being able to educate the children, I think. They looked at things like windows and access to clean water and the number of children, but also whether there was a sewing machine in the parlour. If so… minus points. I think it indicated that people in the house were working, not reading. Anyway, that would be consistent with the idea that women who sewed didn’t read, and vice versa, so that the marked for sewing books for women would be limited.

    I have got to track that down. Gack.

  4. Claire-Marie says:

    The Tenement Museum (New York) web site has some great online virtual tours of period tenement apartments, as they appeared when specific families lived there at different times from the 1860’s to the 1930s. Fascinating personal family histories indicative of the lives of many immigrants. Working the garment trade in your apartment was fairly common.

    On my rare visits to New York (I live in California), I have yet to arrange my schedule to take a guided tour of the actual museum itself in lower Manhattan. Only guided tours are offered. However, the web site is wonderful and packed with historical detail.


  5. Ann says:

    I am SO sorry I could not drag my butt out of the house to meet you with Susan…it is an illustration of the depth of my need for solitude that I could not get myself out the door to meet you. And Susan tried SOOOO hard! Next time you are near, or I am near you, I will be sure to avail myself of the honor.

    Like you and my blog, I don’t think I have ever commented here. But unlike my blog, yours is intimidating! I love it and want to thank you for taking the time to post your enlightening thoughts for all. I truly enjoy coming here.

  6. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    I was at Value Village yesterday and found a 1952 copy of Sewing Made Easy: all about dressmaking and sewing for the home by Mary Lynch. It was $2.99 and seems cool but also kind of silly.

    So if we all gave you our wrist measurements, would you be able to tell us what some of our measurements are, like height, chest, arm length, etc.? I’m curious to know how you can determine that stuff from just the wrist. (My right one is 6 inches.) :-)

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